Two days later, right after breakfast, Emalynn and Katrynn walked into the lecture room – and stopped in surprise at the realization that they were both waiting in the same room.
“You are in the same group as me?” Emalynn asked, surprised.
“I can’t talk about it,” Katrynn said, obviously putting on her rather ‘serious face’. “I wasn’t told that information anyways.”
“Kat,” Emalynn said mildly, “this isn’t...” She sighed. She knew how her younger sister could get.
Eyeing Katrynn critically, Emalynn noticed that Katrynn had appeared to make some sort of effort that morning. Her boots gleamed, her dark pants and blouse and vest were all spot and stain free. At least at first glance. Katrynn’s short black-brown hair had been pinned back into a tight ponytail and hair oils (in order to ensure that no strand of hair would come loose). To her less informed teacher, this new transformation would be welcome but Emalynn knew that this was not to be treated lightly. The signs of Katrynn’s obsessive personality were subtle, but they were there!
Emalynn herself had worked hard to look as professional as possible with her favorite hardy, dark vest, light yet trim assassin’s tunic, well-worn pants and favorite shin-high soft-soled leather assassin’s boots. They were her pride and joy – a gift given to her by her father, ordered from Messrs. Blakely and Hardinger directly. Usually, her incredibly slowly darkening curly blonde-brown hair was loosely tied back; however, today, Emalynn, like Katrynn, had taken the time to pin back her hair. A good assassin, her father had told her time and time again, is not only hard-working but also immaculate and orderly. Unlike Katrynn who struggled to maintain orderliness in all aspects of her life, Emalynn was the epitome of organization. Sometimes to the extreme.
The two Romayans appropriated two chairs and sat in the small lecture hall and looked about. It was one of those extra classrooms that were rarely used, as was evidenced by the lack of chalk dust in the air, the dead fly shriveled up on one of the windowsills, the locked cabinets and the ordered chairs which had been set upside down on the desks. It would make a passable meeting place, Emalynn thought approvingly, if it wasn’t on the first floor and so easily accessed by the general public. My meeting place, she reminded herself a little smugly, is so much better.
Watching the clock tick by slowly – they were fifteen minutes early – Emalynn wondered what her mentor really was like and what two other students would be part of the group. Assuming that Katrynn is in fact in my group... Will there be two Second Year students? Or more First Years? Running through the First Years class lists mentally, Emalynn shuddered. There were two classes for the First Years and the class in which she had been slated, along with Katrynn, boasted a few odd apprentices, a few bumpkins and a few crazies.
A few minutes before the clock’s hour hand had reached the appointed time, a group of four adults entered the classroom soon followed by two disappointingly familiar faces. Two men, two women and two other First Year girls. Great, Emalynn scowled noticing that one was the crazy young lady from the Court and the other one was a country bumpkin. This is going to go well.
Swiftly she assessed the mentors, trying to gauge which of the two male assassins would belong to the name of Colin Shermore. The fact that there was indeed a nicely set up, dark-haired young man in blacks and tans (and speaking with a Westron accent) gave Emalynn hope. The world was not entirely filled with darkness anymore.
“All right everyone,” said the young Westron. “Let’s gather round and introduce ourselves. We’ve got a lot to cover today so our initial meeting is going to feel rather fast, but if any of you guys have questions, feel free to ask.” As he spoke, the man who Emalynn hoped was Colin Shermore smiled easily and every now and then glanced at the other three assassin masters-in-training with an air of encouragement.
He knows that they are technically all equal... Emalynn noted with approval. But he already knows that there has to be a leader for a team if anything is to be accomplished.
“You begin,” said a tall, solid, earnest-looking young woman. “I think it’s best if you take lead on this one, Colin.”
“Yes, yes,” the other fair-haired man flapped a hand delicately. “You’d best go first.”
“Very well,” here, the tall, dark-haired man looked down at the four young ladies who comprised their group of apprentices. “I am Colin Shermore from Clear Springs, Fluervist. I am a specialist in undercover, infiltration, hand-to-hand combat as well as long range combat. Emalynn Romayan is my apprentice for this program and I am looking forward to working with everyone.” With that, Colin looked at the young woman on his right.
“Right. So, I am Hilde-Beth Tayes,” the rather severe young woman said carefully. “A native of this area, I know everything there is to know about the Capital and its intricate politics.”
Hilde-Beth had mouse-blonde hair, neatly pulled back away from his face, giving her an even more strict schoolteacher look. Her blue eyes seemed to be twin swords – sharp and discerning. Although her clothing was plainer and more in line with the standard uniform for the assassin’s, Emalynn’s eyebrow could not help but lift at the sight of a very bright pink flower which had been threaded through a buttonhole on Hilde-Beth’s thin padded dark brown jacket. Overall, the impression Emalynn had of Hilde-Beth was one of scrupulous neatness with a tiny glimpse into something else altogether.
“I am a specialist in infiltration and long range combat as well. I also have majored in stealth and analyst skills.” Hilde-Beth smiled at the blonde-haired girl on Emalynn’s right. “During this program, I will be mentoring Brittainy Brython.”
“Brython,” muttered Emalynn to herself and she glanced to her left at her sister to see what Katrynn thought but then sighed as she noticed that her sister’s brown-eyed gaze had settled with disturbing intensity on the other woman in the room. This woman was, unlike Hilde-Beth, a little softer looking, despite her somber clothing (which, on this occasion, was a simple frock with a lightly padded outer coat). Her hair, tied in a loose bun, seemed rather fly-away – but it was streaked grey which promised lots of experience. Absent-minded pale grey eyes appeared to be focused on something else. The room’s clock or the window or the ceiling... Emalynn couldn’t tell.
“Athylee,” Hilde-Beth nudged the older woman on her right. “Your turn.”
“Oh... yes... yes...” Athylee blinked and seemed to suddenly realize what was going on.
Emalynn winced. Did Katrynn realize what kind of teacher she as getting?
“My name is Athylee Corvanon and I am from a small town outside Marble Vale.” Athylee stopped and then seemed to drift away in thought before getting another small nudge from Hilde-Beth which caused her to focus again and add hurriedly. “I have particular skills in long-term undercover, armed combat, alchemy and stealth and my pupil will be.... ah... hm...” Athylee fumbled about for a second and drew out a small white piece of notepaper. “Katrynn Romayan.”
If possible, Katrynn began to vibrate even more with tense excitement.
So, Katrynn got some woolly-headed woman, Emalynn suppressed a grimace. That will be... fun... for Katrynn. That leaves the dandy for the country girl.
Unlike Athylee Corvanon who was dressed in sensible dark purples, blacks and dark blues, the last man appeared to be sporting one of the newest fashions in frock coats. Grey with white and light blue accents. On ordinary days, Emalynn would have thought the tall thin man very fine indeed, but inside the mildly dingy classroom during an important school meeting, Emalynn’s first impression was that of inappropriate, undue frivolity. Were monocles allowed on the field? What was the practicality of wearing city flats? Where were his weapons stashed?
Adjusting his monocle, the tall lanky gentleman, complete with dashingly crimped blonde hair and sparkling, vivacious blue eyes, proceeded to introduce himself with great flourish.
“Young ladies,” he bowed and straightened with a smile. “I am glad to introduce myself. My name is Geoffrey Englund and I am from a landed family out Chesserton way. However, I am well acquainted with many of the southern provinces including Nichtdoon and Malcho where my family often went on holiday.” He directed a firm gaze at the dowdy looking twelve-year-old farm girl who was to be his apprentice and who stared back impassively at him. “I have great skills in the field of analysis, interrogation, long range combat and tech.”
Interrogation? Emalynn goggled and found herself hard put to suppress a laugh. Does he talk them to death? Or charm their socks off and the wad of pounds they’ve got hidden under their mattresses as well?
“Now, that we’re introduced, I’d like you girls to tell us your names and what you enjoy doing,” Colin said kindly. “Maybe what skill sets you’re good at. You four may know each other already since you are all from the First Years, but since we only have your files, we don’t really know the real you.”
“I see,” Emalynn nodded. “Katrynn, you go first.”
“All right,” Katrynn smiled. “I’m Katrynn Romayan. I’m eleven... and I like...” Katrynn paused to marshal her thoughts and then said: “I love dressing up and pretending to be someone else and following them around and seeing what they do and stuff. My favorite part is when I forage or go scavenging ’cause you never know what you can find. Hmmm... And I can’t wait to be like my Father and go out and complete missions and find my target and hunt them down and kill them in some dark alley at midnight!” Katrynn ended her long spew of words with a pose – right hand held high up in the air and other hand posed on her hip.
No doubt she’s imagining herself standing on top of some church spire with a long cape flapping behind her, Emalynn thought with a sigh.
“That’s... interesting, dear,” Hilde-Beth said with a straight face. How she kept her face stoic, Emalynn did not know, but Emalynn found herself very hard put to keep serious.
“Well, enthusiasm is good,” Athylee smiled encouragingly.
Don’t... don’t... Emalynn drooped. Don’t encourage her. Seriously.
“And her father is an assassin, so it runs in her blood.” Geoffrey said thoughtfully before adding, “Somewhere.”
Yes, Emalynn agreed, it’s there. Honestly. And at least she’s not wearing a cape today.
“How about you, dear?” prompted Athylee with a broad, if absent-minded smile, meeting Emalynn’s eye.
“Oh, well, I’m Katrynn’s older sister, Emalynn Romayan.”
“Emalynn... Katrynn...” The country bumpkin interjected. “Your names rhyme – wait – you two are sisters?”
“You really don’t know much about our class, do you?” asked the aristocratic young lady.
“My name is Emalynn, Emalynn Romayan,” the young girl glared at her chatty classmates. “I’m twelve and, yes, my Father and uncle are assassins.” She left it at that. Time enough for them to make the connections later. “My favorite parts about being an assassin are fighting and getting the job done. I think that we are a necessary force for good in Doran and we have a long history of supporting our king in the shadows... so I look forward to making political connections and taking part in something that can change our entire society. I am also good infiltration and undercover work – but I want to work on being well-rounded. A good assassin is a well-rounded assassin; my Father always says.”
“He sounds like a wise man,” Colin smiled and nodded. “Where do you two come from?”
“We grew up in the Capital, so we are very familiar with the Capital.” Emalynn replied quickly. “But we’ve traveled to Nichtdoon and Coeurland for vacation as well.”
“Great.” Geoffrey mumbled something about child prodigies but then sighed and fell silent when Hilde-Beth gave him a disapproving look.
Emalynn began to feel sorry for the milk-maid, country girl. She does not deserve an idiot... or maybe she does...
“It’s good to know,” Colin ignored his colleagues and looked at the shortest girl in the group.
Although shorter, there was some kind of a strange aura about the well-dressed young lady. Today, as usual, Emalynn’s classmate, which she remembered as being called ‘Brittainy’, wore a rather expensive looking dress which had unceremoniously been pulled up with leather and cloth ties, revealing beneath a very practical set of boyish looking pants and granny boots. The granny boots no longer gleamed, the navy blue and grey dress had a very tired, mended look about it despite the fact that once upon a time it no doubt had a flouncy life of its own, and even the bows in the girl’s wispy curly hair drooped with a lackluster air.
“How about you?” asked Hilde-Beth with what looked like a hopeful gleam in her eye to Emalynn.
Emalynn, remembering how this particular girl behaved in class, wished she could warn Hilde-Beth and somehow temper the master-in-training’s hopes. Brittainy is the Exhausting One.
“I am Brittainy Brython,” said the girl cheerfully. Her blue eyes twinkled. Deceptively. “I love being at assassin’s school. It’s so much more fun than going to the finishing school Mother sent me to before. Well, I guess we still learn languages and art stuff and all that boring social stuff, but there’s a lot of things that are rather exciting. Fighting is fun – and climbing! I love climbing things! Oh, yes, I’m eleven too – like Katrynn, so I’m young and people don’t like that maybe – but it’s all right. Shooting arrows is my favorite. I want to own a crossbow when I get more muscles. I’m working on a lot of pull ups so I can develop arm muscles!”
“And you come from the Capital too?” asked Hilde-Beth carefully, trying to keep her smile pasted on her face.
“Yes, well...” Brittainy paused. “I guess we have a manor out in the countryside and Father has a few farms in a couple provinces... and I’ve gone to Malcho, Brackenlea, Coeurland, Ferrodell and Nichtdoon for the holiday breaks. Last year, Father took Mother, my brothers and I over to the Central Continent because we have some family there at the ambassador’s office.”
“Brython,” Geoffrey’s blue eyes met Hilde-Beth’s blue ones.
Were they related? Emalynn wondered.
“The Brython’s had a daughter?” Hilde-Beth asked a little puzzled. “I didn’t hear her mentioned in the Court Life serial or Echelite or Social Gossipe and Gadaboute.”
“Hmmm... I think I saw something mentioned in Echelite-”
“What number was that...”
“Four years ago. Fall Edition.”
“You two read that stuff – and remember all of it?” Colin blinked with astonishment.
“Well, it certainly is a quick read,” Athylee murmured in conciliatory kind of way as Geoffrey and Hilde-Beth glared simultaneously at their easy-going leader.
“Mother reads those books all the time,” Brittainy nodded. “She wasn’t happy about my photo. I think it was one when I was two years old and I didn’t look... Well, anyways, that’s me! Chrystyna?”
Ah, yes, Emalynn nodded. Chrystyna. One of the funny ones. I remember... she sits in the back and doesn’t talk a lot. Not that assassins have to be talkers, but when you take the lessons in etiquette, manners and socializing for the infiltration and undercover work, it gets really important.
“Chrystyna,” Brittainy poked the tall, giant of a girl who stood on her right and on Colin’s left.
Chrystyna’s green eyes sharpened as she realized that she was being addressed. Big for her age, Chrystyna stood out in the crowd of First Years but sooner or later, she appeared to fade into the background and then nobody noticed it anymore. Today, she was wearing more of the usual milkmaid type clothing that one would see in the back lanes of Coeurland and Fluervist. The cloth was poor, thin and well-worn with the occasional stain and tear which was awkwardly mended.
She probably has to sew and mend her own stuff, Emalynn realized, her heart suddenly feeling happy that her parents had been here to help her get dressed properly for the assassin’s life. And sad, of course. Sad that Chrystyna obviously had just come off of some farm. Her grey apron looked handmade as well and on top of her head a small white cap attempted to cage in a mass of deep chestnut brown hair. Face and hands burned red with the sun and freckled, Chrystyna looked anything but an assassin.
Why is she here? Emalynn wondered.
“Good day, everyone,” Chrystyna began formally, then she stopped. “I, uh...” Here, her face turned even more red if possible. “I am Chrystyna Fieldman. I’m from Grey Crags... A village in Eldalind.”
“Good heavens,” Athylee seemed to finally wake up from her permanent fog. “You are far from home, child.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Chrystyna said. “I mean...”
“You can call me Mistress Athylee,” the homely woman smiled. “How did you come to be here, dear?” She added since Geoffrey had seemed to have frozen permanently in shock at the words ‘village’ and ‘Eldalind’.
“I was elected, um, recruited,” Chrystyna said and then paused and added hurriedly, “but it isn’ – isn’t – that bad since I have got – gotten – a chance to see a lot. And read a lot. There are a lot of books in the library. I mean, I like reading... sometimes when I read I think I can see them in my head and I think doing potions is really exciting.” Here, Katrynn gave Chrystyna a fond look. “And I guess hitting things can be excitin’ – exciting – too. Hmmm... I guess I’m not bad at analysis or tech. I got a typewriter the other day which was great!”
Elected... Emalynn shivered, imagining a situation where she would be forced, or in this case strongly recommended, to move alone to the other side of the country. Father mentioned that once... So I guess it is still being practiced nowadays...
“How old are you?” asked Hilde-Beth curiously.
“Twelve.” Chrystyna pointed at Emalynn. “Like her.”
“Emalynn,” Emalynn said annoyed, “My name is Emalynn. Remember?”
“She doesn’t remember things like names or face,” Brittainy said. “Well, not yet at any rate.” Here, she laughed a little. “Chrystyna didn’t even know we were in the same class or school!”
“You guys meet up?” Katrynn asked.
“Well, only recently,” Brittainy admitted. “When we were scavenging together for our assignment. We met there.”
“I see,” Colin said, not really seeing at all. “Well, it sounds like we have quite a group. The day after tomorrow, we are going to meet in our special meeting place to discuss the assignment. We’ll be getting the assignment tonight, discuss it, divide up the tasks appropriately and tell you what our missions will be.”
“Typically,” Hilde-Beth added, “this program allots information and research-based missions that involve in-depth fact checking, interrogation and undercover or infiltration for fact gathering.”
“No actual assassination is required?” asked Katrynn, her wide brown eyes looking like a disappointed puppy that has discovered that his hole no longer holds his bone.
“Like they would let children assassinate people,” Emalynn said caustically.
Brittainy, Emalynn noted, also looked disappointed. Chrystyna just stared at Colin. Whether she actually understood what was going on, Emalynn did not know. She hoped so. Ugh. I hate group assignments.
“If it’s any consolation, there’s a lot of time taken from the school and sometimes you have to leave the city and do undercover work,” Athylee consoled the two children. “Are you ready for a lot of walking?”
“Yes!!!” Katrynn and Brittainy both chimed in together.
You two have no idea what is going to actually happen, Emalynn thought darkly.
“Walking?” Chrystyna didn’t look enthused either.
“Lots of walking and fact-gathering. Lots of reading,” Geoffrey said, seemingly recovered from his initial horror. “If you like reading, I’m sure there will be loads of books and accounts in the city archives for you to look through.”
“There may be no actual assassination,” Colin looked seriously suddenly, “but that doesn’t lessen our responsibility. Many missions and requests come to the Assassin’s Guild and it is the job of many people to ascertain the actual situation, to do reconnaissance and to double-check the factors that will go into the assassination. In the end, what is being ascertained here is our – Hilde-Beth’s, Athylee’s, Geoffrey’s and my – abilities to teach, train and guide young apprentice’s. Also, you will be marked for your demonstration of hard-work, creativity, intuition, and willingness during this mission.”
“So someone may get assassinated at the end because of our information?” asked Brittainy eagerly.
“Goodness me,” Hilde-Beth said tolerantly, “we have a blood-thirsty bunch.”
“Yes, someone may receive justice,” Geoffrey paused and added quietly, “so we need to be very careful!”
“Do you four understand?” Colin asked.
“Yes, sir!” was the return chorus.
The adults smiled.
“Now that we’ve got that done, we can start in earnest. Your paperwork, your parents’ signatures and everything, have come in, so we can begin today with seeing what Emalynn came up with for her initial assignment.”
“The meeting place,” Emalynn said proudly, “is, I think, perfect. If you guys follow me, I’ll show you the way.”
“Lead the way,” Colin gestured to the class door and the whole group trooped out.
Emalynn, chattering to Hilde-Beth, Colin and Geoffrey, lead the group down the hall, turned left into the main hallway and continued down two flights of stairs to the central hall’s atrium where the large oak door stood opening up to the main lane which ran out to the main gate way down an avenue of large sweeping oak trees.
“The place, I chose,” Emalynn was saying, “seemed perfect because I figured we wanted a quiet, out of the way, difficult to get to place. I mean, not difficult to get to, but easily defensible.” A pause. “Not that I expect we will get attacked during this mission at the school, but I was just taking precautions.”
“Sounds like you really put a lot of thought into it,” Hilde-Beth said.
“Emalynn is always getting high marks in class,” Brittainy said airily. “Much better than Chrystyna and me.”
“Is the hideout in a tree?” asked Brittainy.
“No,” Emalynn said shortly. “There’d be no shelter from the rain.”
“My father could build us a tree house-”
“A tree fort!” Katrynn said. “With green paint for camouflage and cannons!”
“No cannons,” Hilde-Beth said firmly.
“I am not certain the Headmaster would want us camping out in his trees,” Geoffrey added with a snort.
“This place is better than a tree fort. It needs a bit of a fixing,” Emalynn hastily said, “but I think that its remoteness and secrecy and quietness far outweighs the cons.”
Quickly the group made its way off the main gravel road, pushed past some bushes and followed one of the gardeners’ footpaths around the side of the main building. A little set back, the west wing of the Academy (which was comprised of the school’s girl dormitory) faced them, until Emalynn swerved further west, following a second footpath around a small enclave and garden to the far tower which stood on the far end of the school’s girl dormitories. Here, Emalynn knew less wealthy students lived during the school year and, excepting a few floors, was for the most part less populated than the other parts of the girl’s dormitories.
Entering the tower, the group began to make their way past the various floors which opened up to the stairwells. As Emalynn had noted, the floors were mainly empty during the day and the few who were sitting at their battered desks reading or studying or sewing knew better than to ask or follow the group. Onward they climbed and Emalynn kept up a steady flow of conversation with her mentor and the rest of the group.
“There are two doors into the dormitories – one within the school and one from without – but both are quite secure. But not too secure since the gardeners and the staff like to take shortcuts in through the first floor of the tower,” Emalynn continued on. “I watched the traffic during peak periods yesterday evening and even then, it was quiet.”
“Yes,” Chrystyna said, “I like it here – it’s so quiet. In fact, I-”
“And the room can hold a few tables and chairs?” asked Hilde-Beth. “I believe Brittainy had an assignment for furniture scavenging.”
“Well, there was some furniture there of course... as is standard for every room at the school,” said Emalynn, “but more furniture is always welcome.”
“I got a ton!” Brittainy said proudly. “I made three trips to the Lower Quarters – you know, in the South Farthing District... but not so far south,” she added hurriedly, “because if Mother found out, she’d have a fit. That’s where I met Chrystyna.”
“Yes, and I’ll be able to bring the paper and quills and things I found over quite quickly, maybe tonight, since my-”
“I think we’re here,” Emalynn said, finding herself still a little winded.
“We’ll lose some weight,” Hilde-Beth said wryly, “with all this climbing.”
“And that is never a bad thing,” Colin added quickly, noticing that the first worry line began to show up on Emalynn’s brow. “Well, you know what I mean. Lots of leg muscles make for a good fighter.”
“I’ve got good leg muscles since-”
“Ah, the door is open. I had my picks ready just in case,” Emalynn said, pushing open the door. “See?”
“Good gracious,” Geoffrey said, finally pushing past the others to push open a rather banged up shutter and looked down. “It’s another world up here!”
“There’s a table,” the words now rushed out of Emalynn like a torrent. “There are two chairs. A wardrobe with some old clothes and books inside, which we can get rid of easily. A bed! And two night stands... and with Brittainy’s furniture, it could look quite nice. My mother said I could take the extra small rug we have in our cellar-”
“We could haul stuff up with a rope through this window!” Brittainy was practically leaning all the way out of the northern window. Hilde-Beth yanked her back, tried to shut the shutters, failed to since they appeared to be rusted into a permanently open position and sighed.
“It’s like a tree fort.”
“Not it’s not, Kat,” Emalynn said bluntly.
“Not a bad place,” Colin agreed.
“Yes, I like it too,” Chrystyna said, plumping the pillow up on the bed and hurriedly shoving some navy blue and black fabric away into the wardrobe. “I’ve never had a bedroom like this before. It really is perfect for almost anything.”
 Provinces, who provide services to the Crown – by way of taxes, goods and products or military services (such as the recruitment of soldiers, engineers or assassins), are offered handsome rewards in the form of money or much needed resources. However, since the northern provinces do not have large populations, recruitment is much lower and more often than not, the “best suited” individual (usually from large families) are chosen and sent to the Capital regardless of their ACTUAL abilities (or affinities for) the service into which they have been more or less press-ganged.